Rated R

Mormons (at least in the U.S., where the MPAA holds sway) have a soft norm against watching R-rated movies. There are still lots of Mormons who watch them (just like there are plenty of Mormons who drink Coke or watch the Superbowl on Sunday or let their little girls wear tank tops), but for some,  not watching can be something of a symbol of their faith. I remember as a kid hearing several stories of young people who “lived their religion” by suggesting a different movie or just going home when their friends were pressuring them to watch one that was rated with the big bad “R”.

Apparently I came from an especially strict family, because we didn’t watch PG-13 movies either. Or even PG movies sometimes. In fact, my entire family (parents + five kids) walked out of a movie theater once because my parents considered the content inappropriate. The movie? Home Alone.

I did watch the odd PG-13 movie as a teenager. In fact, I remember going out on a first date with someone to see City of Angels. Watching the sex scene at the end of that movie with a boy I barely knew had to have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my sheltered sixteen year old life.

At BYU,  I went to the International Cinema every week, so I saw dozens of artsy foreign films. Some of them had originally been rated “R”, but had been edited by the university (sometimes skillfully, sometimes less so, and sometimes to the point of leaving ragged plot holes).

So my first real “R” movie was Braveheart. I watched it shortly after I got married, because Tony thought it was amazing (and that I should lighten up about the movies). Besides, even my grandma had seen it. It was kind of a bad choice for my first “R” film, since it turns out that “brutal medieval warfare” is not really my thing. Which may have something to do with the fact that I didn’t watch another R-rated movie until a couple of months ago, when I finally decided that I was quite a bit more capable than the MPAA of deciding which movies I would enjoy.

Lately I’ve been catching up on the past several decades of great movies. I’ve had some fits and starts (e.g. I only made it about 30 seconds into The Libertine, even though I love Johnny Depp), but by and large, it’s been great. And because you’re surely dying to know, here are my favorite three R-rated movies so far:

One of my first choices was The Matrix. Judging by the number of times I’ve heard this movie referenced in BYU classes and even Sacrament Meeting, I am not the first Mormon to make an exception to the “R” rule for this movie. So mainly I am happy to finally have a reference point for when people ask me if I want the blue pill or the red pill. I found the movie both fascinating and entertaining, and a very illuminating antecedent for much of the sci fi that has gone on since. (And hey, I guess Keanu Reeves is not such a bad actor as I had thought from seeing him slaughter his every line in Much Ado About Nothing.)

All the scattered philosophical allusions are good fun, although I would characterize it more as a movie with some deep bits and pieces than a really profound work of art. There were some kind of gory parts, but I didn’t really find it any worse than some PG-13 movies I could name (Dark Knight, I’m looking at you).

I first fell in love with the Guy Fawkes masks during the Arab Spring, when Anonymous was so prominent in its support of the young protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. And Natalie Portman is one of my favorite actors. So I was intrigued to finally see this movie, and went into it with very high expectations. They were fulfilled and surpassed. Visually, this film is absolutely gorgeous. The dramatic colors and the sweeping panoramas give it a larger-than-life feel.

The dialogue is sophisticated and wonderful, from V’s very first gloriously alliterative introduction. It is a film with more than its share of memorable moments, perfectly orchestrated for maximum impact. There were some parts where there was just too much blood for me to look, but I wouldn’t call any of the violence gratuitous. All in all, I highly recommend it for anyone who likes a good dystopia-meets-civil disobedience story. (O.K., any adult. I still don’t let my little kids watch R-rated movies.)

This may be my favorite movie ever. It definitely makes the top five. It’s directed by Michael Radford, who also did the wonderful Italian film Il Postino. I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for loving The Merchant of Venice because it’s so blatantly anti-Semitic. But Michael Radford humanizes and elevates the problematic Shylock to the status of tragic hero, masterfully played by Al Pacino. We empathize with Shylock even as he descends into revenge and bitterness, and the terrible effects of bigotry on both offenders and offended are graphically illustrated.

The rest of the cast also performs beautifully.  I especially enjoyed watching Lynn Collins’ portrayal of the brilliant, desired, but unmistakably human Portia. And the implied homoerotic relationship between Antonio and Bassanio renders Portia’s ultimate victory in the end all the more complete. I had never read The Merchant of Venice as Radford reads it, but I found myself utterly convinced by the end that even if Shakespeare hadn’t intended all these nuances, he ought to have.

On top of everything else, this movie is visually stunning. The costumes and scenery are lush and opulent, and the dramatically shadowy canals of Venice made me feel like I had gone back in time. In fact, bizarrely, it was Radford’s insistence on absolute historical accuracy (including the fact that prostitutes in 16th century Venice were obliged by law to go bare-breasted) that garnered the film its American “R” rating. Go figure.

So what else have I been missing? Any movies to recommend?

8 thoughts on “Rated R

  • June 7, 2013 at 1:24 am
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    I think many parents’ panic over the PG-13 rating of films is a little unnecessary. There are some movies that deserve the rating whole-heartedly, but parents should look at the less serious offenses with a critical eye and decide on an individual basis whether their children should be allowed to watch them. I missed out on a bunch of pop culture references in my childhood because I was not allowed to see certain movies. To this day, I have still not seen “Jurassic Park,” because I couldn’t watch it when all of my friends were. I’m not saying that parents should just go throw the MPAA rulings out the window, but they should definitely form their own opinions on movies instead of just blindly following the MPAA.

  • May 31, 2013 at 7:36 pm
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    I remember the long line of highschoolers whenever the Priest posted the new list of movies from the “Legion of Decency” on the bulletin board at the back of my church to check out the movies that made the list!!!

  • April 24, 2013 at 1:36 am
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    How about Shakespeare in Love? I haven’t ever seen the R-rated version but I did watch an edited one in Syria and it was such a good movie.

  • April 23, 2013 at 10:51 am
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    Sarah – agreed on the R rating for Slumdog. I think most of the movies I recommended have “earned” their R rating, but I don’t think it should necessarily disqualify it as being a film worth watching (as you said in your post).

  • April 23, 2013 at 10:06 am
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    Thanks for the recommendations, Bridget and Liz. I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, actually, and thought it was wonderful. I’d have to say I think it did deserve the R rating. That scene where the poor little boy is blinded was so disturbing.

  • April 23, 2013 at 9:58 am
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    OOH! I second Bridget’s “Slumdog Millionaire” recommendation.

  • April 23, 2013 at 9:58 am
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    I also couldn’t stomach Braveheart. Meh.

    I think it depends on what kind of stuff is most offensive to your spirit. For me, it’s violence. I can’t stomach it. Like you said – The Dark Knight kind of made me physically ill. But I could listen to f-bombs all day long and not really be fazed. Sex is more of a mixed bag – I feel like there’s a difference between appropriate/romantic sex and pornographic sex in movies, so…

    With that in mind! How about “The Shawshank Redemption?” I also loved “Gladiator,” but it’s almost a bit too violent for me. I also really loved “The Fighter” (that one’s a bit more recent – and full of profanity, but the movie was still amazing).

    And I’m gonna be honest – “Bridesmaids” was crass and a bit vulgar in parts, but that movie made me laugh so hard and hit so many things on the nose that I’ve now seen it three times. I feel like a terrible person recommending it, but hooboy, that movie is hilarious.

  • April 23, 2013 at 9:51 am
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    Great post. I’ve never seen The Matrix but maybe I will someday.

    I haven’t seen a lot of R-rated movies either, but I would recommend:

    Vera Drake
    Slumdog Millionaire (should have been PG-13)
    United 93 – I think everyone should see it once
    Gladiator. It’s a lot violent and a little creepy but I was so uplifted by it. Go figure.

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